Ecuadorian Nationals Charged with Trafficking Cocaine

Ecuadorian Nationals Charged with Trafficking Over 700 Kilograms of Cocaine on Unflagged Boats

NEWPORT NEWS, VA (STL.News) A federal grand jury returned an indictment yesterday charging four Ecuadorian nationals after they were intercepted on the Pacific Ocean while traveling on unflagged vessels with over 700 kilograms of cocaine.

According to the indictment and to a criminal complaint filed earlier this year, Julio Luis Rosado Benitez, 47, Maunel Alexi Quijije Mero, 26, Oscar Arcenio Sanchez Garcia, 26, and Kevin Antonio Franco Bonilla, 24, were found traveling on unflagged go-fast vessels several hundred nautical miles off the coast of Mexico and Guatemala.  A U.S. Coast Guard cutter intercepted the boats, and boarding teams recovered a total of over 700 kilograms of cocaine.

All four defendants are charged with possession with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine onboard a vessel without nationality.  If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.  Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Marty J. Martinez, Special Agent in Charge, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Chesapeake Region; and Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Division, made the announcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric M. Hurt and Andrew Bosse are prosecuting the case.

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation.  OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.  Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:21-cr-4.

An indictment is merely an accusation.  The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.